Handel's Messiah, Our Messiah
Updated: Jan 15
Church talk given by Sister Jacobs in Huntington Beach, CA.
“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder; and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6).
250 years ago, in 1742, 57-year-old Georg Friedrich Handel premiered his 2 hours and 23-minute masterpiece “Messiah,” an oratorio shaped by this scripture. It was not Christmas when it premiered, but Easter. The audience swelled to more than 700, with women wearing skirts without hoops to make room for more people. Handel's superstar status was not the only draw; many also came to glimpse the contralto, Susannah Cibber, then embroiled in a scandalous divorce. The men and women in attendance sat mesmerized from the moment the tenor followed the mournful string overture with his piercing opening line:
"Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God." Soloists alternated with wave upon wave of the chorus, until, near the midway point, Cibber intoned: "He was despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief." In the audience, so moved was the Rev. Patrick Delany that he leaped to his feet and cried out: "Woman, for this, be all thy sins forgiven thee!"
Such was the effect Handel desired for his masterpiece to have on the audience, a connection to who the Messiah is, what He has done for us, and how He can change us. The profits from this debut performance went to a debtors prison in Dublin, where 140 people were released as a result, an appropriate use of funds for a work centered around our Savior who releases us from our own debtors' prisons of death and sin and loneliness.
Perhaps the greatest evidence of God’s hand in this music was that Handel wrote it in an astounding 3 ½ weeks, writing from morning to night, sleeping and eating very little. While writing the ‘Hallelujah’ chorus Handel’s servant discovered him with tears in his eyes and he exclaimed, “I did think I did see all Heaven before me, and the great God Himself seated on His throne, with His company of Angels.”
In years to follow, master musicians such as Mozart and Beethoven confessed themselves humble in the face of Heaven’s gift of Handel’s “Messiah.”
Jesus Christ truly is Wonderful. A Counsellor. Mighty God. Everlasting Father. Prince of Peace.
A perfect, just, and merciful ruler, who came as a baby, a gift to us all. Alma 7:11-12 demonstrates all these characteristics, and though you may have heard these verses numerous times, listen for the things that allow our mighty and wonderful Savior to counsel us a father, and to bring us peace: “And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people. And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities.”
As a child, I was frequently plagued with nightmares and didn’t sleep well at night. This meant I would come home from school, and right about 5 pm, the time Little House on the Prairie reruns would start on television, I would often fall asleep out of exhaustion. And, just as I was slipping into sleep, my mom would come and place a blanket on me. I would be still just awake enough to feel the comfort of warmth and softness, of being looked over and noticed and cared about, protected and safe. Me—a precocious child who held yard sales when my mom wasn’t home, selling her things; who would peek at every Christmas gift; who would keep her up at night well past my toddler years; and usually had to figure everything out instead of listening to my wise mother’s advice, earning me a chorus of unsung “I told you so’s.” Even so, I still felt perfectly loved and perfectly safe in such love.
Having a blanket placed on me is still a feeling I associate with a loving and watchful Heavenly Father, who truly desires to comfort us in this life full of trials which, though designed for our benefit and growth, can leave us afraid and exhausted.
My prayer for all of us this Christmas is that we can be a little more like our Savior. When we see someone in need, we go to them. When someone is mourning or struggling with their faith, we embrace them, and if words fail us, we simply sit with them as Job’s friends did. That we do our best to create as many warm blanket moments as possible. Knowing that helping us is our Savior, our Father, full of wonder and might, ready and perfectly capable of counseling us, strong enough to shoulder all the world’s governments, but also to see and help each of us as individuals.
Let us act with him, and be his hands and feet and heart.